Friday, June 8, 2012


Have you ever noticed how much work you can get done on your book simply by thinking about it? I can go through the motions here at Ye Ole Day Job, but approximately 95% of the time, I'm living in my book. Trying to unravel new plot threads. Spicing up characters with quirks. Finding ways to make my setting more "real." I'm always thinking about my story.

And I love it.

Anyway. What's going on this weekend? Any big plans? (You realize I ask because it's a polite way for me to tell you about my upcoming weekend, right?)

My writing group is getting together Sunday morning and heading north to a quiet retreat center for the day/night. We each have high hopes of putting a lot of necessary work into our books. I have new scenes to write and old ones to move around. I have more to do than is possible to accomplish in 24 hours.

I'm excited--SUPER excited--about this quick retreat. But part of me is nervous. Two people in our group are social. They're lovely people, but if one starts to talk, then the other one does, and the next thing you know, an hour is gone and I haven't been able to write a thing.

So this means I'm going to have to protect my time. The retreat center is HUGE. I will have my own room. And headphones. If I'm not getting stuff done because of the chatter, I will simply walk away. No harm, no foul. I won't ask them to stop, I will simply relocate. I'm paying for this time with my own money and my own vacation day on Monday. I do not want to get home and feel like it wasn't worth either one.

No, really: What's going on this weekend? Anyone writing? Anyone want to pull my weeds? Wait, no, that's not right. Big plans?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What can you do in 3 weeks?

Three weeks. 21 days.

What could you get done in 3 weeks if you set your mind to it?

Just about anything, right? I hope so, because that's exactly what I'm up against.

In order to use my 2011 NaNo CreateSpace code for 5 free proof copies, I have exactly three weeks to polish my book and send it in. Truth be told? 21 days is generous. My self-imposed deadline is Tuesday, June 26th, so three weeks minus one day.

But what if I can't do it? Do I draw the line in the sand and say, "Self, if you're not at Point X by Date Y, hang it up"?

In order to give myself the best possible chance of success, I am allowing myself some luxuries this month. In the month of June, it is okay to:

  • Run the dishwasher more than once a week. If lil' ol me fills it up, this means I've been bringing my lunches and making my dinners = more money left over. Win-win.
  • Skip trips to the gym. Something has to give.
  • A 2-mile walk with the dog is enough exercise. There's a book to polish!
  • Go 10-12 days between mowing the lawn. Yes, the neighbors do theirs every 7-8, but that's fine. I'm writing.
  • Laundry. Meh. Not sure why I do it so often anyway.
  • Say no to friends. Thankfully, they all know this deadline is upon me, so they're cool.

Okay, so I have it all laid out and you're likely thinking, "There's no WAY you'll fail!" Alas, I haven't told you the bad parts. 

I rewrote my story outline last night. It's tighter and cleaner and has less "fluff" than before, but it means I have a lot to do. And I'm determined to figure out how to use Photoshop or InDesign to make my cover (I'm proficient enough to screw things up--should be NO problem!) instead of using the CreateSpace cover generator. Finally, in a fit of insanity, I decided to fly out to see a friend in two weeks. He's helped with one of my settings and has offered to play tour guide so I can see it first hand. While I feel this is amazing timing and really quite fortunate, I just HAD to go schedule a 4-day trip in the middle of these sacred three weeks, didn't I...

What was I thinking?! 

Dear Insecure Writers Support Group: I'm worried that I'm going to put all this time and effort, and now money and vacation time, into a project that A) won't come together by the deadline, or B) will sit on my shelf for the rest of eternity because the book isn't "sellable." As a result, I won't be a writer, but instead, a pretender. In debt.

Commence insecurity-induced freak out. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

MMGM: Breaking Stalin's Nose

I spent some time over the weekend reading about Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. I'm a proud American and all that jazz, but sometimes the British have all the fun. Maybe it's because I'm a history major at heart, but I love all the pomp and circumstance. I'll never see another Diamond Jubilee, so this was pretty amazing.

Speaking of history, let's talk Communism...

Photo from Goodreads
Author: Eugene Velchin
Date published: September, 2011 from Harry Holt and Co.
Newberry Honor (2012)

From Goodreads:

Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:

The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.
A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.

A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.

But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate's glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway.  And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.

This moving story of a ten-year-old boy's world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility.

Here's a little secret about me: One of the reasons I like reading MG books is because they're short. This allows me to read more of them in the time that it takes to read something like, oh say, Game of Thrones (*cough4monthscough*). 

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE is 160 pages and filled with author illustrations. In terms of this adult reading it, I did it in two days. I imagine a MG reader could do it in a few.

I enjoyed this book because the very first chapter pulled me in to Sasha's world, which as an outsider, we know is subtly uncomfortable. I love it when authors evoke emotional responses from me like this because we can see so clearly how this situation isn't right. I know Communism isn't right, but reading it from Sasha's perspective made me even more uncomfortable.

The whole book covers only two days in the life of Sasha, which helps keep the tension level high. I felt sympathy for the antagonists, who had their own stories and motivations.

I'm not sure if children today will be able to grasp just how real Sasha's life was. More important, I wonder if young readers will understand the setting wasn't really that long ago. If you don't have an understanding of world history or Communism, this would almost read like another MG dystopian, which is a creepy concept for me to wrap my head around. This book depicted at way of life that happened less than 100 years ago. Blows my mind.

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE weaves morals and lessons through the chapters and does a nice job of portraying a society where you can't trust anyone, not even your neighbors. At the end, Sasha has a choice to make and he quickly realizes how, in only two days, his world has irrevocably changed.

Would my nephews read this book? I think so. But I don't think they would willingly reach for it. As a historical novel, it's not up their alley. However, I think it's a quick enough read of an important enough topic, that maybe they should read it. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Too hot to handle...

"Too cold to hold..." C'mon, guys: Finish that lyric!

This is very long post that has NOTHING to do with writing. Feel free to move along if you don't have time/care to read about running. I promise it won't hurt my feelings.

Instead, here's the race recap from the Green Bay Cellcom Half Marathon, which I ran on Sunday, May 20th. The race was called mid-run due to excessive heat. I, and the 50-75 runners around me, never got the message. 

Starting line area
Starting around Wednesday prior to the race, I received a number of emails from the race director talking about the projected warm temps, the need to hydrate, and how no one should use this race for a PR (personal record). Me, in my infinite arrogance, laughed. How hot can it be? It's Green Bay, Wisconsin. Home of the Frozen Tundra and all that jazz. I figured I'd be just fine, but brought 3 extra 48 oz water bottles for the road trip on Saturday to hydrate anyway. I'm glad I did.

I woke up around 5:30 on Sunday morning. I planned to meet my friends at 6am and hop on the school bus shuttle from the hotel to Lambeau Field at 6:15. I toasted my bagel thin, forced down my breakfast, and tried to drink my water. My nervous stomach didn't want food, but I knew I had to eat. I ran the same half marathon the year before (my first ever half marathon) and had a sneaky itch to try and PR this race. I knew I was in better shape than last year and really--I just wanted to beat myself.

We hopped on the bus and were naturally surrounded by the "good" runners. You know, the ones who were talking about the weather and how they were going to "force themselves" to slow down and run at a 9:30-10 min/mile pace. HA! I figured if I could average 11:30, I'd be in good shape.

Lots of standing around, stretching, bathroom lines, nervous sips of water, double checking gear, retying laces, and overall just trying to get my head in the game. It was hot and sticky at 6:55am. I didn't want to even THINK what it would be like two and a half hours later.

My two friends lined up with me. One had decided the night before that she was going to try this race (she was signed up, but hadn't trained since Jan due to knee injury) and the other one had serious medical issues and also decided the night before that she was going to give this race a shot. I was worried about both of them, but we all had phones.
HM course. Green arrow is the start, blue dots are water stops, red dots
are medical stops. It went counter clockwise.

The gun went off and we shuffled our way to the start. I hit "Start" on my iPhone's GPS program and started running. I crossed mile marker 1 (MM 1) and the woman's voice came on to tell me I was averaging a 9:45/mi pace. Whoa, adrenaline! I had to slow down! Unfortunately, I had roughly the same pace for MM 2, so I simply forced myself to stop and walk for a minute.

MM2-MM4 were really hard for me. I was incredibly hot and sweating like mad. I was also quickly figuring out that my GPS was ahead of the miles, so when it told me I was at MM4, I still couldn't see the banner on the course. I ended up turning it off later in the race.

Just before MM5, my friend April texted me (the one with medical issues). She was going to drop out. I knew there was a church party right after MM6 and I texted back that I was going to make a decision at that point. I wasn't feeling good about the race and knew I was spending a lot of time walking. I had also watched the first ambulance come up from behind and stop a few blocks ahead on the course. By time I reached the vehicle, they were lifting a female up on a stretcher. She looked to be in excellent shape and was about my age and she was out cold, complete with mask on and everything. It was pretty scary. I said a little prayer and kept going.

The church party was actually a few blocks past the official MM6 banner. At that point, I started grabbing two cups of water. I'd drink one and dump the other on my head. I love the church party. They have a full gospel-type choir complete with a band and microphones. I turned off my music, high-fived the kids along the street, grabbed the waters, and enjoyed the moment. I was essentially half way there.

MM6-MM9 I was having an absolute BLAST even though I saw an alarming number of runners down due to the heat. I don't know how, but I was running with a smile on my face and thanking the homeowners who put their sprinklers on the course for runners to go through. My runner's high was happening mid-race. I loved it. LOVED it. Here's a great pic of a sign I saw. HA!
If you can't read it, it says
"You trained longer than
Kim Kardashian's marriage!"

I was Tweeting with Sarah Ahiers (because, who doesn't update Facebook and Twitter while running a half?) just before MM9 when I suddenly snapped out of my runner's high and looked around. At that exact moment, I saw three runners lying down in the shaded lawns of the course. Something clicked in my head and I realized that I needed to pay better attention. For lack of a worse cliche, "It was gettin' real out here." As in, real dangerous.

I passed MM10 at 1:51, or almost 6 minutes better than my time last year. I was still feeling FABULOUS. I knew if I kept my easy pace for the next 3.1 miles that I would easily PR this race. I found some runners ahead of me to pace and tried to get into a groove. At the same time, I was nervous that I felt so good. What was I doing that other runners weren't? Or was this the early signs of dehydration and I was about to pass out any minute? It seemed like every time I looked up, I saw more runners down on the ground.

Shortly after MM10, a state trooper who was directing traffic was yelling something to the runners. We pulled out ear buds to hear the news. Up ahead at MM12, where the HM runners turn left to finish and the full marathoners turn right to go another 14 miles, the race director had closed the split. The full marathon had been cancelled due to heat. It was a half marathon only. At my next walk break I texted my friends to let them know what was going on. They were approx 2 miles behind me and from what I understood, they were seeing more and more runners down as well.

After MM11, the remaining 2 miles were in a zero-shade industrial park area. I knew it was going to take everything I had to PR. I could feel chafe burns on my back from my sports bra and on my hips from my capris from the sweat and waters over my head. I got to MM12 and saw that yes, the turn off to the right was in fact closed. A race official with a megaphone kept repeating, "All runners must turn left. The full marathon has been closed due to excessive heat. Left turn ONLY!"

Thankfully, the organizers mobilized a water station at MM12.5 and I passed a number of bike medics on this part of the course. I remember feeling incredibly grateful to the guy who worked at the sheet metal business. He pulled out his office's 10-gal Culligan water dispenser and was apologizing to runners for running out of cups! No one cared. We took scooped handfuls, splashed our faces, gave grateful smiles, and kept running. Major high-fives to that guy. He was just being nice. Man, I love nice people.

I remember the volunteers at MM12.5 yelling encouragement. "Keep going, half a mile and you're done! There's plenty of water at the finish line. You've got this!"

Suddenly, my phone rang. Who the hell is calling me? And more important--why am I answering the phone while on the literal home stretch of my HM? It was April. She was almost to MM11 when the race director decided to shut down the entire race. All runners were being diverted back to Lambeau field. She found our other friend and together, the two of them walked the 3 blocks back. I told her I was a few minutes out and would meet her at the finish.

I put my head phones away and put my phone back on my arm. From here on out, I needed to pay attention. I was with a group of exhausted, sweaty, and jubilant runners. We were looking around at each other like, "I can't believe we just did that!"

We crossed Oneida St and turned to enter the Lambeau Field parking lot, no more than 100 yards from the finish line. Unfortunately, race officials had pulled a gate across the course, preventing anyone from finishing. When the race director decided to call the race, that went for anyone still on the course. I thought it meant for any runner on the course before a specific cut off mark, like MM11 or MM12 where my friends were--not for runners who were on the home stretch!

That's right, I'm throwing deuces at the camera lady
because I'm THAT happy. And yes, I'm buying one.
Man, we were FURIOUS! We busted our butts to finish in horrible conditions, just to find 100 yds from the end that we weren't allowed to finish? Group mentality kicked in. We all stormed forward, ran around the guy, climbed over the fence, and ran like hell. Somehow, somewhere, I found the remaining energy to put every last bit into that stretch and cross the finish line with a smile on my face.

I grabbed my medal, took 2 free waters, posed for a pic, then stumbled around in a post-race fog. It was TOTAL chaos. A woman in the medical tent was screaming "I DON'T WANT TO DIE!" and I saw a number of runners simply collapse in exhaustion. It didn't help that the post-race area was too small, fenced in, and in direct sunlight. We had to get out of there and find shade. ASAP.

That was about it. The busses to the hotels were busy out on the course picking up runners, so we had to wait another hour and a half before we could even get back to our hotel. The shower should've felt wonderful, but I had too many random rub sores all along my waist and back that the water stung.

That night my friends all left for their own homes. I ordered a pizza from Old Chicago and ate every last bite of the mushroom pineapple deliciousness. And I didn't even feel guilty. I earned that grease. :)

Like I said, this is super long. My apologies. However, I know there are a few writer-runners out there. If you have any questions about being a non-runner in a runner's world, please don't be shy--ask away! I'm more than happy to help anyone realize that you can run a half marathon. True story. Even this drinker-sometimes-smoker. If you can write a book, you can run a HM. Actually, I'd argue running is easier and has quicker payoffs, but we can discuss that another day.

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